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Episode 1: Leading change and transformation with Michele Payne

Diary of a change manager podcast

To kick off the series, Sam is joined by expert Change Manager Michele Payne to discuss the role of leaders in successful change programmes.

From building momentum to coaching through change, this is a lively discussion packed with practical tips… including the recipe for the perfect change sandwich!

As Michele aptly puts it, “Change leaders engineer and make change a reality by putting people first.”

Michele in front of the podcast microphone. Quote text "people don't know what a change manager is!"

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Episode 2: Stakeholder management
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Episode 2: Mastering stakeholder management

What can we learn about change leadership?

Episode highlights

Welcome to the Diary of a Change Manager. The podcast that makes change management easy. Today, your host Samantha Kinstrey is talking to expert Change Manager, Michele Payne. Browse our full transcript below, in simple, scannable sections.

Introducing change leadership

Sam: What we wanted to talk about today was how we reframe change management into change leadership. What’s your experience of that, Michele?

Michele: Well, I think they are two very different things So change management is this application of activities and theory – a framework – that allows organisations to implement a new thing, taking them from point A to point B.

Whereas change leadership is about, I see it, as individuals or group of individuals that inspire people, they set the strategy, they set the vision. And then they have the energy to take that forward.

Turning a good manager into a great change leader

Sam: Okay, so what are those key characteristics do you think that makes a good leader into a great change leader?

Michele: I’ve been really fortunate to work with many leaders that are driving change in their organisations and I see energy, passion – those that can build coalitions with different parts of the organisation. Those that are also empathetic as well. Also, some risk takers.

Sam: Always great to see a risk taker in a change leader. So why are risk takers so important? And have you got any examples of where you’ve been given permission to take some risks in a programme?

Michele: So that’s always an honour When you work with a leader and you push them into places that perhaps they’re not comfortable with, but you build that trust. And I’ve been really lucky.

One example I could tell you about, Sam is giant puzzles outside. So when we try and implement a new process, nothing bores an audience more than somebody putting up a visio map of a process with lots of boxes. I mean, it is guaranteed to send your audience asleep. So giant puzzles which you can throw a creative whizz to and get people outside, get people building giant puzzles so that they themselves have got hands on experience of what that new process is. So you’re getting that process map in there I guess you use a muscle memory as well.

So I was very lucky in that instance where this particular change leader that I was working with gave me the permission to build large, giant puzzles. He also allowed me to – we were implementing cloud technology in this particular instance – and he allowed me to get a load of old on premises kit, put it in a wheelbarrow, and wheel it down the center of a conference room. To say that the day of on prem was dead and we were embracing the cloud.

Sam: Wow. I would have loved to have seen that! I bet you got some real engagement with that one.

Michele: We did. But it was about what resonated with the audience at that time, they could connect to that. It certainly stuck.

We also had another opportunity to work, and this is during COVID, when lots of people had lots of anxiety and lots was going on in people’s lives. Change programmes still happen when lots is going around in the world.

We were given the green light to create our own TV infotainment show. Because sometimes an email just doesn’t do it. I’ve been really lucky to work with some really brave people.

Creating people-first change

Sam: It feels to me as if you’re talking about human connections here. So talk me through that, Michele. Why does that matter?

Michele: So when I think of change leaders, the one unique factor that a successful change leader has is the ability to put people first. It’s one of all our values. It reminds me of us.

But it is true in change programmes and big transformations where you need to put people first because you can build technology, you can design great operating models, but it’s your people that are going to make the change happen and ignore them at your peril is my advice.

It’s the people that will engineer and make that change a reality that allows these leaders to achieve their objectives, their goals and their visions. And not all change is bad, right?

It can be for good outcomes so I will always be banging the drum about putting people first. Thinking about the different types of audiences you do be that generational within your organisation, from boomers to Gen X, you know, there’s so many different ways that we can reach out and touch people.

Sam: Yeah, and it’s really interesting that you talk about those characteristics, Michele, because when I think about the change leaders in our organisation, people like yourself, many of those qualities and those characteristics that you’ve just described, they’re the characteristics that we’re looking for in our people, too.

Michele: It’s what allows us to connect with our customers really well. And I talked about building trust. Change leaders also need support and that’s where we come in, as that support team. So we’re doing the change management function of those activities But we’re there as people-people not only supporting the change leader, but also promoting and being an advocate for the audiences that you’re touching.

So when you get a really, really good connection, bouncing ideas off your change leader, your sponsor and we give them options as well because they can go many different ways. Ee have a lovely privileged position to work alongside some really great people. I’ve been very fortunate.

Qualities of a great change leader

Sam: So come on, give us some examples. We’ve heard about the wheelbarrow. I love that one. And the great big puzzles. Are there more examples of great people that you’ve worked with in the past have really shown that bravery and that risk taking?

Michele: So, yeah, I’m thinking of an individual in mind at the moment. Tenacity as well. Resilience, you know, because change programmes, big transformation programmes, don’t always go according to plan. And you have to be brave. You have to sometimes do things that don’t make you feel comfortable. And that’s where me and my team come in.

So sometimes we talk about, you know, not wanting to communicate bad news, but honesty is always a great policy in big programmes. And keep talking to your customers, keep talking to your audiences. That’s what my advice would be.

Cynicism and resistance to change

Sam: So I want to wheel back now you talked just a little bit just a moment ago about something that I know is a real pet hate of yours. So come on, resistance, Michele. The resistance. Everyone loves a bit of resistance management. So you come on, let’s talk about that

Michele: Yeah. So you’ll go into an organisation and they’ll feel really good about themselves because they’re employing change managers and the change management team are coming So they know everything. Yeah, you know, we’ve got it and oh what are you going to do about resistance? What are you going to do about resistance?

Now we debate this within our own consultancy We do. We’ve got different thoughts and approaches and I think it’s good to have that healthy debate. It’s also good to have options that we go to our customers with. I am not a fan of the term ‘resistance management’ as an activity, quite frankly, you’re always going to have naysayers, your haters always going to hate, yeah? So you’ve got that pocket of people that are going to object to the change.

There’s many reasons why you’ve got the people that are literally sitting in the middle on the fence, the fence sitters, so they’re just looking to the left and looking to the right. They’re going “Which way should we go?” And then you’ve got your pioneers, your advocates.

Now I say, do you want to spend time and resource on the naysayers, The cynics, let’s call them. Or do you want to put your energy into getting that early adoption, identifying those green shoots of change? And do you want to start to see those benefits, those outcomes that that change leader is gunning for? I say put your energy into those early adopters, those pioneers. Let’s call them. That can start to create this empirical evidence.

These guys at the end, they want hard evidence to know that this is a good thing. Yeah, they do. Put your energy into them and I say ignore them. That’s controversial, right? I know. I know it’s controversial, but we’ve got to get good success stories and change. We’ve got to get that early on in a programme because that creates momentum. So then I can start to get my fence sitters coming towards the new beginning. The new entity. The new thing.

A vision for change

Sam: We talked earlier, Michele, about what is it about setting that vision right from the start and how can we get those, those middle people, the ones that were sitting on the fence, but they’re now moving towards what that change actually looks like. Isn’t it important that we start to actually be able to articulate that vision early on?

Michele: Well, I’ve seen different ways of releasing a vision, announcing the change. And I’ve seen good examples and I’ve seen horrific examples. So you want to create momentum. You want to create momentum. You want to create adoption. We want people implementing this new thing, behaving in the new way that was set out by that leader. So you could make a big bang announcement which may cause shock and awe.

Or you could start to bring in people like us that will craft the language, the narrative around your vision. And we can start to drop seeds of what that vision may look like by setting up maybe focus groups and letting that news out gradually.

So there’s lots of different ways that organisations want to approach their change. How does that leader want to approach their change, we give people the choice. And I think that it’s good that we have healthy debate within our own consultancy about whether we ignore the cynics. But it’s about giving that change leader options and choices.

Now we’re very good because we’re people-people at landing into organisations and understanding the culture. You know, whether you’ve got a very highly intelligent, science focused organisation or you’ve got a very liberal open organisation, and we can feel the temperature and the culture of those organisations. But ultimately, that change leader knows their organisation best.

So we give them the choices about the different ways of implementing change and really it’s up to them to seek advice from us and for us to give them the best advice really.

How to start leading change

Sam: Yeah, absolutely. So, Michele, when you start in a new organisation and you’ve landed there, you don’t really have many connections in there that’ve engaged with us. How do you make a start?

Michele: Often people don’t know what a change manager is, Sam and they know that you’re a management consultant of some kind. But when you actually refine it down to say, Well, I’m a change management consultant, what’s changed was change management? I’d say rather reciting a chapter out of an ADKAR model or a Cotter book… I remember talking to an individual about how I saw change management and always move my hands a lot because I talk a lot with my hands and I said it was about building a grassroots connection of people and we do that by human interactions, picking up the phone, knocking on doors and we start to build this grass roots network at the bottom. Of course, we’ve got our change leader, who’s our sponsor, and they’re at the top. And as my hands are doing this, like I said, it’s kind of like a sandwich.

Think of it as a hamburger. And so this is where my idea about change management is a hamburger came from. So we’ve got our bottom bun of communities of champions. We’ve got our senior leadership as the top bun. And then in the middle is those change activities.

It’s those areas of specialism that we are expert in via communications. Be it training, Be it engagements, facilitation, that’s your burger, that’s your salad, that’s your tomato, and you squash it into the bun could be smothered in cheese. Call that the love that we give people because I genuinely believe that we do show the love to people and that is your change hamburger.

Sam: That’s brilliant. I love it. Michele, thank you so much for explaining that to me. I’ve wondered for quite a while!

Michele: I’ll make you one one day.

Technology change is rarely about technology

Sam: So, Michele, tell me about the biggest change challenge you’ve ever faced.

Michele: It’s quite a lot, Sam. I’m not going to lie. Yeah, I can imagine. They’re all challenges, but I think in recent history we were asked to help an organisation that were merging two large internal departments under a single leader. We were given eight days from being instructed to be ready for launch.

Now, as a team, we pull together. We worked really hard with our customer day and night to meet that deadline. But for me, I would say that’s not necessarily putting your people first.

Eight days is not a long time to brief management teams, line managers that didn’t really know about the change. So that was a shock and awe situation, I’d say, something that I wouldn’t advocate.

I think often in transformation programmes, be they technology, be they people organisations tend to hang on to the fact that they’ve bought a new shiny thing. Or they want a new shiny organisation model. And they’ll focus on that. But then go into the next phase of “Well how are we going to bring that to reality?” So they’ll start building a team around it. And then the last thing they think about is “Oh, I guess we better tell the people.”

So wouldn’t it be better just to have a bit more time to build that people narrative and bring them into that conversation much, much earlier? And that’s where we definitely help. We can do it in eight days, but I prefer a bit more.

Sam: I think we’d rather not wouldn’t we? I’d rather not. But we did it, hey? We did it. Yeah, we did. And I remember the the thanks and the I think the shock and awe from the customer actually that we managed to achieve that for them. So that was a very good job. Very, very well done. So congratulations on that one!

Communication and change leadership

Sam: So one of the things we also talked about earlier was the importance of what we really call modern high-quality communication and engagement. Why is that so important?

Michele: So communication. What is communication? And when we start working with an organisation, it could be on an announcement on their intranet, but we have a really, really great team of brilliant writers who’ve come up with some amazing narratives. I would like to start with a narrative of working with a change leader to say, Let’s get these thoughts on paper. And ideally it’s on one side of A4. Yeah, it’s never much more.

Sam: Shouldn’t be much more than that, should it? Who can concentrate on that?

Michele: We call it the boilerplate. We work with organisations to get their leadership team to sign up that very short, snappy statement about what the thing is that we’re doing, what we’re setting out for and what’s everybody’s on that page. Then we can start to create those different communications, those different engagements, because communication isn’t an email and it’s not a post on the Intranet. Communication is you and I here today together. It’s that small interaction that that leader may have in the corridor. It’s the communication. It’s what that change leader’s management team are saying.

And our role is to make sure that everybody is on message. We’re all saying the same thing. We don’t conflict and that it flows, that it makes sense and it’s easy to understand. It’s simple, clear language

Sam: And communication has to be two way, right? So we can land what we think is a great message but if we’re not getting any feedback to make sure that that message is landing, has it even landed?

Michele: Yeah, that’s a really good point, Sam, because in that modern communication, what we’re really looking for is those channels allow people inside different time zones to be part of that communication. So tools like Viva Engage, for example, I’m such a fan. It’s also it’s a great tool so that you can build communities, virtual communities that become self-sustaining.

Sam: That is the Holy Grail, right? Self-sustaining community.

Michele: So we’ve done that. We’ve gone in and we’ve built communities, virtual communities in organisations where they poo-hooed the use of such tools. And I was proud to walk out of that building knowing that that community self-sustaining, running huge engagement on it when it was thought it could never be done. Yeah, and so useful in diversely spread organisations to employ tools such as that.

Change leaders are the ultimate influencer

Sam: Makes me think about digital champions, Michele. And how champions might use those self-sustaining groups to keep that message alive, even when the programme’s over.

Michele: Yeah, not only do they keep it alive, but they’re solving problems themselves. And that’s why I’ve always said a good change manager shouldn’t stay, right? We should leave the building because we go in there. We support that change leader. We engage them in some crazy things. We have fun, right? We have fun. But we should certainly leave the building afterwards. But with those communities in place, those skills in place, and that new reality being the new normal.

Sam: Yeah, we were talking earlier weren’t we about the difference between champions and influencers. They’re all on that same line, aren’t they? Everyone that’s pushing that change is on the line. But you’ve got the senior influencers and then you’ve got the someone that you go to when you just need some help in remembering how to how to make that process work or what button to press next.

Michele: Change leaders they’re your ultimate influencer aren’t they? And ideally they should be touching their senior management team influencing them. And then down to what I call your grassroots people that are feet on the ground that are living and breathing that change and also experts at it.

So if you can build that community and maybe concentrate and focus a lot of attention on those that group in the early days and you’re always thinking about what is the intrinsic motivator in these people. Generally they want to be recognised for their knowledge that motivates them. And when you can start to spot those individuals and me, my team, our team, because we’re people people we can identify and think, hey, that person, that could be a great champion!

So you just you build them. You give them the tools, you give them the skills, you shower them with love. And you give them the tools to allow them to keep going. Be that a channel or Viva Engage.

Celebrating successful change is a team effort

Sam: Shall we start thinking about how we celebrate success in our programmes.

Michele: Yes. So Everyone wants to see the green shoots of change management want to see the green shoots of change. And I think that when we start to see that it’s important to take time, that, when we celebrate it it’s genuine, it’s authentic. And that we use that celebratory moment and it comes from that audience. It should never be about the leader achieving the great outcome. It’s all about the individuals, the groups of individuals and teams that have made that change a reality.

My advice is don’t go too early. Be absolutely sure that is a green shoot of change. But yes, I had one particular customer I can remember who wanted an elephant and a brass band going through What? the auditorium. That was his challenge to me. I said “Well, I don’t think I can do an elephant and a brass band… But you know, it is about throwing parties and it is about getting the pizzas delivered. It’s small things like that that create momentum.”

Sam: Ultimately change happens one person at a time, doesn’t it? One person at a time.

Michele: Yeah, definitely. It’s a really good way to start. Yeah, absolutely.